Photos by Amanda Lopez

Local Rapper C Plus releases his first full-length solo album

Chaz Wheeler, better known as C Plus in the hip-hop community, remembers his first experience making a mixtape. It was recorded over an old-school computer mic with a program called Record Producer, a $50 purchase at Office Max. He was right out of high school.

Those days are long gone. Since then, Wheeler has successfully built a name for himself as the renowned local rapper C Plus: C for Chaz, Plus for positivity. Now he is preparing to release his first full-length album.

The 23-year-old Natomas native has always been passionate about poetry and rhyme, but got serious about rapping once he joined State Cap, a local hip-hop group, just after graduating from what he calls Natomas “hater” high.

Plus has made more mixtapes than he can count since then. He garnered a lot of attention for writing a spin-off of Wiz Khalifa’s “Black and Yellow,” instead entitled “Black and Purple” to represent the Sacramento Kings team colors. Cutouts of Plus’ face appeared in storefront windows of the local hip-hop store Getta Clue as part of a campaign for Official hats. And within the last year, Plus has spent his time at Sound Cap Audio recording his first album, All C.I.T.Y. (Creative. Intelligent. Troubled. Youth).

“I didn’t dream that I would be able to be in a very, very expensive studio with a bunch of live music being made for me to rap over,” he said. “I spent my whole career looking up to cats I work with on a regular basis now.”

Though he takes pride in his hometown roots, giving several shout outs to Sacramento on his album, there are some things about the city that have left Plus jaded, like the plan to relocate the Kings to Anaheim or the fact that so many night clubs are shutting down around town.

Not that Plus is looking for a club scene, as he doesn’t drink much these days.

“I’m much more toned now,” he said.

The girls, the booze, the weed and the raging party nights with State Cap during the so-called “Apartment 78 era” gave way to a serious investment into rapping as a career. Sure, Plus still smokes, but “it’s a rapper thing,” he said. “It goes along with the studio vibe.”

It’s also a way to cope with the stress of working in the music industry.

Even more than the music itself, Plus has been consumed with the business side of things. And the fact that he hasn’t written new material lately makes him nervous.

“I don’t feel like I’ll ever be as hungry, as focused and as driven as I was when I created this album,” he said. “So I’m afraid I won’t have inspiration to draw on to make something as dope the second time.”

All C.I.T.Y. features Plus’ raps flowing over steady bass lines and rich instrumentation accompaniment of guitar and keys. His words are poetic yet blatantly honest. He raps about sex and weed. He also raps about struggling to make ends meet, about family, growing up and the stresses of the music industry.

The album could have easily been heavy beats paired with just smoking, kicking it, drug-dealing and girls, Plus said. Instead, he wanted to aim for something more conceptual and instrumental.

“I feel like that’s what promotes longevity,” he said. “It’s oatmeal rap. It’s gonna stick to your ribs more so than party music and just songs that are only good for one certain feeling. That’s more like fast food.”

It might have looked strange discussing the hip-hop biz with a renowned local rapper over tea in a coffee house on a Saturday night. Nonetheless, here’s an excerpt from our conversation.

The album is All C.I.T.Y., right?
Yes, C.I.T.Y. is an acronym. It stands for creative, intelligent, troubled youth.

Why did you choose that?
“All city” is kind of something that always stuck with me. Since I was a kid I used to be really into skateboarding. I still am, to this day, I still skate. Kareem Campbell was one of the most popular black skaters when I was coming up. He came up with All City [Campbell’s skateboarding team was called All City Skateboards]. So that term, that phrase always stayed with me, and then I got older and I found out what it meant. Another part that stuck out to me is that as Mos Def said, “It’s all city like Phase 2, and hip-hop will amaze you” [from Mos Def’s song “Hip Hop”] And I found out later Phase 2 is one of the most popular graffiti artists in the early ‘80s. And he was “all city,” which meant, five boroughs of New York. He wasn’t relevant in just one borough, he was like, all of New York. He was everywhere. So my whole thing, we were just talking about how I did State Cap, I did Neighborhood Watch. Now I’m with Turf Hop, and then I’m part Live at the Dojo. And then I also do Dope Fix! with Matt Cali. I’m kind of everywhere. I’m all over the map.

Now the acronym, was that something you came up with?
I came up with the acronym.

So why the acronym?
Because that really represents me, I feel, to a T.

Creative Intelligent Troubled Youth?

That was a pretty powerful first track, where you’re talking about leaving a piece of yourself, giving people something to relate to, representing creative, intelligent youth and having hope to inspire and all that. Did you want to talk a little bit about that or tell me if that’s sort of what you’re trying to aspire to or…
I would definitely say my pursuit of music as a career has been for material purposes. But it’s material in the sense of I want to buy my mom a house. And I want to be financially stable. So it’s like, yeah I want jewelry and nice cars and all that too, but I focus on music as a business for that reason. I came in really listening to conscious rap, and I grew up on A Tribe Called Quest and Talib Kweli and all that stuff. But I grew up and I got older and my life experiences started reflecting different stuff. I got a lot more into other types of hip-hop–I don’t want to necessarily say street or gangster rap or anything like that. So I always find it weird in interviews and stuff, when I talk about the “conscious stuff” like that. But that really definitely is my main focus, to inspire people. Especially like I’ve always said, I feel for the mixed kids. Because that’s always one of the biggest things I struggled with when I was younger, being a mix.

I liked “Captain Kirk.” Do you smoke a lot when you write?
It’s part of the creative process.

But when you write?
Yeah. I usually smoke while I write. I actually don’t write. I write, but I don’t write. I always like to touch on this because a lot of different artists have different writing processes, and ever since The Black Album came out, everyone’s like, “Oh yeah, you know, Jay-Z doesn’t write so I don’t write my lyrics. Yeah I do my shit in my head.”

I actually recite the whole song in my head. I don’t touch paper, don’t write in my phone. And I have the entire verse synchronized to the time and lay it out.

Then there’s the one after that, “Money Train?”
That’s just talking about, not just struggle in general, but more so just knowing that there’s a reason that you have to go through the motions. Like even when you’re at the lowest of the low, there’s always light at the end of the tunnel. I know that sounds so cliché. Especially for young people. I find that a lot of the stuff that I talk about in my music, because it’s drawn from a lot of the experiences I had when I was younger, especially when I was 18 to 22, for people in that age bracket, it’s not really cool to talk about that stuff. You don’t really talk about it with your friends. It’s kind of taboo, some of that stuff.

Like what?
Like being really broke, having problems with your family, stuff like that.

You talk about Sacramento a lot, though, in your songs. Or at least you give several shout outs to Sacramento.
I love Sac to death, because I feel like I’m hella cool. I know that sounds extremely cocky but I look at myself from a third-person perspective, like I really went through shit.

I feel like I’m so cool and all this because of Sacramento.

That’s why I have State Cap tattooed on my hand, even though it’s hella faded. Every time I’m out of town that’s the first thing I say on stage is, “I’m from Sacramento, California. The capital.” [Laughs] Because a lot of people think it’s Los Angeles. A lot of people think the capital of California is L.A. That shit is scary.

C Plus’ album release party for All C.I.T.Y. will take place at Beatnik Studios in Sacramento on April 23. Pre-sale tickets are $15 and can be purchased in advance at Pre-sale tickets include a copy of the album.